Native fishermen who lost thousands of lobster traps during a skirmish with non-natives last fall reacted with anger to news the vandals were fined a mere $400: Burnt Church reserve

Canadian Press
Thursday, March 2, 2000

BURNT CHURCH, N.B. Native fishermen who lost thousands of lobster traps during a skirmish with non-natives last fall reacted with anger Thursday to news vandals were fined a mere $400.

''It's not fair,'' said Vernon Mitchell, a band councillor for the Burnt Church reserve.

''It wasn't fair when they started demolishing our property, and it's not fair what the courts have done. It's a slap on the hand.''

Twenty-two non-native fishermen were each fined $400 Wednesday for their part in a fishing protest last October that destroyed about 3,000 native lobster traps in Miramichi Bay.

The fishermen, all from the Baie-Ste-Anne and Bay du Vin areas of New Brunswick, each pleaded guilty to causing mischief by interfering with the lawful enjoyment of fishing.

Provincial court Judge Camille Dumas gave them conditional discharges, meaning they won't have a criminal record if they keep the peace.

Mitchell said the sentence was far too lenient.

''That was private property they destroyed,'' he said bitterly.

Mitchell said vandals destroyed about 100 of his father's traps in the protest, which followed a controversial court ruling upholding treaty rights to fish lucrative lobster stocks.

Mitchell said the courts don't seem to care about how the attack has affected his community.

''They always look the other way when it comes to us being attacked,'' he said, adding there were far more than just 22 people involved in the protest.

''The courts this time turned a blind eye and deaf ear and just gave them a slap on the hand.

''What if the shoe was on the other foot? We would have been given jail terms if we had gone out and cut their traps.''

Mitchell said the band's chief and council plan to discuss the sentence and see what can be done to ease the community's reaction.

''There's a lot of anger in our community because of that,'' he said. ''It's hard to keep them calm when something like this happens.''

The charges resulted from an incident last Oct. 3 in which a flotilla of about 150 boats descended on waters off the Burnt Church First Nation.

The men, angry at aboriginals for fishing during a season closed to licensed commercial fishermen, pulled traps from the water and destroyed

The vandalism sparked violence on the Burnt Church wharf, where two non-native trucks were set on fire and non-native and native fishermen
angrily confronted each other.

The men also faced 22 charges of wilfully destroying lobster traps but they were withdrawn by the Crown.

A federal lawyer also withdrew charges against the men of having traps aboard their boats during a closed lobster season.